When Mary Adams died at age eighty-one, it came as a surprise to no one. The end came after years of slow decline that took her motor skills, memories, and sanity. Then there was the long death watch. She held on, uncomprehending and in pain, for weeks. She finally slipped into a welcome unconsciousness, where she remained for several days before finally letting go. “At least she is not suffering anymore,” people usually said.
Through all of it, Stuart Briggs was at Mary’s side. Mary was Stuart’s first and only love. They had met in high school and hit it off right away, but for whatever reason, Mary never was attracted to him. They never dated. Stuart waited in the background as she dated other boys. He was a guest at her wedding to another man. When her first husband had died, Stuart was there, hoping for his chance, but it never came. He waited through a second marriage, which ended in divorce.
After that, Mary came to rely on Stuart’s constancy. He was the person she called when she needed someone to go with her to the movies, to help her with an errand, or just to talk. They became regular companions, but as far as anyone could tell, they never had a physical relationship and it was never a romance, at least not for her.
When Mary became ill, it was Stuart who cared for her. He took her to church on Sundays, pushing her in her wheelchair even as walking became a challenge for him. He was calm and patient with her confusion and mood swings. He visited her daily in the nursing home long after she had forgotten his name. He stayed with her every day she was in the hospital and then in hospice. He was there when she died, holding her hand. Now he was making the funeral arrangements because Mary’s children were scattered across the country in California and Colorado.
He now sat before Paul holding a small scrap of newsprint. It was Mary’s obituary, a short notice mentioning her career as a teacher and her long membership in the church. It named her first husband (“pre-deceased by….”) and said she was survived by her two children and their families. Stuart was identified only as “special friend.” He had loved Mary longer than her husband; longer than anybody. The center of his world was gone, and yet he had no official title to acknowledge his status. When someone says, “I lost my wife,” everyone understands the magnitude of that loss. “I lost my friend” is different. Unless you know the person well, it has no meaning at all.
-Excerpt from the novel Angel by Laura Lee published by Itineris Press, release date September 27, 2011